A Chinese scholar's sword | Peter Dekker's Mandarin Mansion: Antique Arms & Armor

A Chinese scholar's sword

An antique Chinese scholar's straightsword or jian.


Introduction

The Chinese straightsword or jian (劍) was traditionally the side-arm of the scholarly elite. Men who dedicated their lives to study of ancient literature for the state exams. Graduation granted them a high status in Chinese society and a fair chance to become an official of the state. Some families spent their entire fortune to try and get at least one of their sons to pass the exams. The very best students ended up as court officials.1

Other than the swords of village militia who used heavy, utilitarian swords, the scholar's swords were generally of higher quality but lighter and more delicate. They were not made for full-scale battle, but rather as status symbols that could serve in the occasional act of self-defence or duel.



Notes to introduction
For an introduction on the state exams of China, see: Beverley Jackson and David Hugus: Ladder to the clouds : intrigue and tradition in Chinese rank, Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, California, 1999. A very thorough study of the subject from Yuan to Ming dynasties: Elman, Benjamin A.: Cultural History of Civil Examinations in Late Imperial China University of California Press, 2000.



Overall length: 79.8 cm / 31.4 inch
Blade length: 65.3 cm / 25.7 inch
Thickness: forte 5 mm, middle 4.5 mm, near tip 3.5 mm
Blade width: forte 27 mm, middle 22 mm, near tip 17 mm
Weight without scabbard: 400 grams
P.o.b. 16.5 cm from guard (handle side)


Origin: China.
Materials: Iron, steel, brass.
Dating: Possibly 18th century blade, 19th century brass mountings, recent handle and scabbard.


This example

A Chinese straightsword of the scholar's type. It has a superb blade of flattened diamond cross-section, of precise geometry with prominent center ridge. The blade is of sanmei construction with a high carbon steel edge plate sandwiched between many layers of milder forge folded iron and steel. The result is a very stiff and rigid blade, resilient but capable of holding a very sharp edge.

The blade profile with considerable taper in width from base to tip, suggesting it might be quite an early blade. Possibly 18th century or even older. Blade is in bright polish, revealing the details of its steel construction in just the right light. Blade is in near perfect condition; only some minor pitting, no nicks or cracks.

The sword comes mounted in a complete set of 19th century brass fittings. All fittings decorated with bats around stylized longevity characters shou (壽). The word for bat is pronounced fu in Chinese, which sounds exactly the pronunciation of 福 which means: blessing; happiness; good fortune; prosperity. Together these elements make the pun fushou ( (福壽) or "a long and blessed life". Some wear and minor repairs to the fittings but overall in good condition. See pictures.

The newly made handle is carved with designs of dragons, and it repeats the longevity symbols on the fittings. The carving is nicely done. The scabbard is made of precious huanghuali wood with a beautiful, deep luster. This work is typical for a group of Chinese jian refurbished and sold by Alex Huangfu about a decade ago.

The sword has excellent handling characteristics, and due to its length and fairly forward balance feels a lot more mature than the numbers would suggest. A nice weight and for everyday practice.


Conclusion

A fine Chinese straightsword with suberb blade, in excellent condition. Mounted in a complete set of 19th century fittings of the "fushou" type, with bats and stylized longevity symbols. Handle and scabbard were part of a restoration about a decade ago, all skilfully done with high quality materials.

Price € 3800,-



Interested? Questions?
Contact peter@mandarinmansion.com



Notes to description



An antique Chinese scholar's straightsword or jian.

An antique Chinese scholar's straightsword or jian.

An antique Chinese scholar's straightsword or jian.

An antique Chinese scholar's straightsword or jian.

An antique Chinese scholar's straightsword or jian.

An antique Chinese scholar's straightsword or jian.

An antique Chinese scholar's straightsword or jian.

An antique Chinese scholar's straightsword or jian.

An antique Chinese scholar's straightsword or jian.

An antique Chinese scholar's straightsword or jian.

An antique Chinese scholar's straightsword or jian.

An antique Chinese scholar's straightsword or jian.

An antique Chinese scholar's straightsword or jian.

An antique Chinese scholar's straightsword or jian.

An antique Chinese scholar's straightsword or jian.

An antique Chinese scholar's straightsword or jian.

An antique Chinese scholar's straightsword or jian.

An antique Chinese scholar's straightsword or jian.

An antique Chinese scholar's straightsword or jian.

An antique Chinese scholar's straightsword or jian.

An antique Chinese scholar's straightsword or jian.

An antique Chinese scholar's straightsword or jian.

An antique Chinese scholar's straightsword or jian.

An antique Chinese scholar's straightsword or jian.

An antique Chinese scholar's straightsword or jian.

An antique Chinese scholar's straightsword or jian.

An antique Chinese scholar's straightsword or jian.

An antique Chinese scholar's straightsword or jian.

An antique Chinese scholar's straightsword or jian.

An antique Chinese scholar's straightsword or jian.

An antique Chinese scholar's straightsword or jian.



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